This article is meant for informational purposes only. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your physician.
Dr. G. M. Siddiqui, M.D
CEO, Medical Services, Lifeline Healthcare.
Ever wish there was a quick-reference guide to remind you of the basics of good nutrition and healthy eating? Use the newly redesigned, easy-to-read food pyramid as your personal guide to healthy eating. The Healthy Eating Pyramid was introduced in the 1980s as a simple visual guide to the types and proportion of foods that we should eat every day for good health using a ‘more to less’ concept. It aims to convey the key messages from the new dietary guidelines, the core advice of which are:
• Enjoy a variety of foods from the five core food groups
• Choose mostly plant-based foods
• Limit foods high in saturated fats, salt and added sugar
• Choose water as your main drink
The Food Pyramid contains the five core food groups, plus healthy fats, according to how much they contribute to a balanced diet.
The foundation layers include the three plant-based food groups:
• vegetables and legumes
These layers make up the largest portion of the Pyramid because plant foods should make up the largest portion of our diet – around 70% of what we eat!
Plant foods contain a wide variety of nutrients like vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They are also the main source of carbohydrates and fiber in our diet.
Older children, teens and adults should aim to have at least 2 serves of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables or legumes each day.
From the grains food group, choose mostly whole grains (such as brown rice, oats and quinoa), and wholemeal/wholegrain/high cereal fiber varieties of bread, pasta, crisp breads and cereal foods (over highly processed, refined varieties).
The middle layer includes the milk, yoghurt, cheese & alternatives and the lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes food groups.
Foods in the milk, yoghurt, cheese & alternatives group primarily provide us with calcium and protein, plus other vitamins and minerals. This food group also refers to non-dairy options such as soy, rice or cereal milks which have at least 100mg per 100ml of added calcium. Choose reduced fat options of these foods to limit excess kilojoules from saturated fat.
Foods in the lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes section are our main sources of protein. But each food also provides a unique mix of nutrients, including iodine, iron, zinc, B12 vitamins and healthy fats. We should aim to have a variety of meat and non-meat options from this food group.
The top layer refers to healthy fats because we need small amounts every day to support heart health and brain function. We should choose foods that contain healthy fats instead of foods that contain saturated fats and trans fats.
Choose unrefined polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats from plant sources, such as extra virgin olive oil, nut and seed oils. Limit the amount of saturated fat you consume and avoid trans fats.
We also get healthy fats from foods in the other food groups, such as avocados, nuts, seeds and fish, so we only need a little bit extra from oils and spreads each day.
The Food Pyramid for Nutrition Guidance: A Snapshot
Here's a breakdown of the food pyramid guidelines, which now list total daily amounts in each category that you can assign to meals and snacks throughout the day:
• Grain Group: six ounce-equivalents or servings each day. Choose at least three that are whole grain.
• Vegetable Group: 2.5 cups total for five servings each day. Choose a variety of vegetables of different colors, including dark green and orange.
• Fruit Group: 2 cups total for four servings each day. Choose a variety of fruits of different colors.
• Milk Group: 3 cups each day. Yogurt, milk, and cheese (low-fat or fat-free versions are best).
• Meats and Beans Group: 5.5 ounces total for two or three servings each day. Lean meats, chicken, eggs, nuts, dried beans and peas, and fish.
• Oils: six teaspoons or servings each day. Choose mono- and polyunsaturated oils.
Discretionary Calories: a small amount. An allotment of 100 to 300 calories can be used on foods with fats or sugars, like dessert.
The Food Pyramid for Nutrition Guidance: Portion Size
You also have to follow those portion sizes and there may be a big difference between them and what you think a healthy portion size is.
Use this guide to know what the right serving size is and make sure you're eating only the calories you need each day:
• One-ounce equivalent or serving of grains: one-half cup cooked pasta, rice, or cereal; one bread slice; or one cup dry cereal
• One serving of vegetables: one-half cup vegetable juice, one-half cup cut vegetables, or one cup of raw leafy vegetables (such as spinach or salad)
• One serving of fruit: one-half cup fruit juice, one piece of medium-sized fruit (like an orange, apple, or banana), one-half cup cut fruit, or one-quarter cup dried fruit
• One cup equivalent of milk: one cup yogurt or milk, 1½ ounces low-fat or fat-free natural cheese, or two ounces processed or packed cheese
• One ounce equivalent of meat or beans: one-quarter cup cooked beans; one tablespoon peanut butter or other nut butter; one egg; or one ounce cooked meat, chicken, or fish
• One serving of oil: one teaspoon any vegetable oil, one tablespoon low-fat mayo, or two tablespoons light salad dressing
Enjoy herbs and spices
Herbs and spices provide a wonderful range of flavors and aromas to our food. Many herbs and spices have health-promoting properties, but since we tend to eat them in smaller amounts their primary purpose is to flavor and color our meals.
Cooking with fresh, dried or ground herbs and spices is an easy way to create foods that suit your tastes, and increase your enjoyment of home-made meals.
Limit salt and added sugar
The Healthy Eating Pyramid reminds us to limit our intake of salt and added sugar. This means avoiding adding salt or sugar to food when we’re cooking or eating, and avoiding packaged foods and drinks that have salt or added sugar in the ingredients.
Cooking your own meals at home, and choosing whole foods or minimally-processed foods will also help to limit how much salt and added sugar we consume.
Sodium is found in salt and is naturally occurring in some foods. While we do need small amounts of sodium for good health, too much salt is linked to increased risk of high blood pressure, which can increase your risk of cardiovascular (heart) and kidney disease.
Consuming a lot of added sugars, especially from foods like chocolate, cakes, biscuits, desserts and soft drink, can add extra calories to your diet. This can lead to weight gain and increase your risk of developing type2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Too much sugar can also cause dental cavities.